The phenomenal worldwide proliferation of cell phones is generally viewed by consumers and telecommunications companies as a tremendous boon to personal communication. But the negative environmental impact may be worse than they imagine, with a growing number of cell phones and batteries ending up in landfills — sometimes just months after being manufactured and sold. This occurs because those phones can be considered by many people to be obsolete by rapid technological advances and the emergence of ever-smaller and more powerful models of phones.
Samsung, one of the leaders in the development and sale of cell phones and other consumer electronics, hopes to shift the trend with the introduction of the world's first solar-powered cell phone, the Blue Earth. It was introduced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on 16 February 2009. As its name implies, this latest addition to the Samsung lineup is an attractive blue, and it is designed to resemble a flat and well-rounded shiny pebble. The front of the phone has a full touch-screen user interface, and the entire back has a solar panel, which is apparently large and efficient enough to charge the phone. Yet the device sells with a charger, which is probably intended for owners who are not out in the sunshine long enough to fully charge the phone, for whatever reason.
Of all the cell phones available, this one is by far the most environmentally responsible, and not just for its solar panel. Both the electrical charger and the body of the phone are manufactured using PCM — a plastic derived from recycled water bottles that contains no beryllium, phthalates, brominated flame retardants — all of which are quite toxic. The phone has a special energy-saving "Eco-mode", and the screen brightness and backlight duration are easily modified to further reduce power usage. The charger is compliant with the latest Energy Star criteria, and consumes less than 0.03 watts in standby mode. The phone's user interface includes a pedometer, and calculates the amount of CO2 emissions avoided, and the number of trees saved, by walking. Furthermore, Samsung intends to use the lightest and minimal amount of packaging, all of it made from recycled paper.
One criticism raised against this new model is the claim that when the typical cell phone user holds a unit up to her head, that hand covers much of the back of the phone, which in the case of the Blue Earth would prevent the sun's rays from reaching the solar panel. However, users of the Blue Earth would quickly learn to hold the unit along its edges, leaving almost all of the solar panel exposed. In addition, there are plugin solar panels that one can purchase and dangle from the phone, which would provide additional power. They also allow charging when the entire phone has been placed in a pocket or purse, as long as the supplementary panel is left hanging outside to catch the sun's rays.
This long-awaited advancement in the merging of telecommunications and renewable energy technologies, could very well signify the beginning of a promising era in energy-efficient and eco-friendly consumer products. In the realm of the ubiquitous cell phones, the new "Blue" may be the new green.